Monday, December 31, 2018

As The Year Recedes



This blogpost should have been a review of Nadine Shah's December gig in Brighton but her tour was cancelled as she had to return to the North-East to be with her family. I am not sure of the exact reason but I sincerely hope it is not something too disastrous. Instead, as the year recedes, here are three things I learned in 2018:

There Are No Grown-Ups - In Lord of the Flies, when Piggy bleats that "Grown-ups know things...they ain't afraid of the dark. They'd meet and have tea and discuss. Then things 'ud be all right", he is showing a touching faith in the adult world to solve problems and act in the best interests of the little people. As we hurtle towards the EU exit door, spinning like a car on black ice (I appreciate that we are running out of similes for Brexit but this is one I have personal experience of and it was the most scared I have ever been), I have realised that I am Piggy no longer. Once upon a time, I was: as a child, I adored Harold Wilson (still do, really) and felt that no harm would come to my family all the while he was looking after things. Although I hated Margaret Thatcher and was not over-enamoured with Tony Blair, I still believed that they would act maturely and make decisions that they thought were for the best, even if I did not agree with them. And, oh, if sturdy Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister I am sure we would not be in this mess. Now I am Ralph; not Jack, who greets the lack of grown-ups on the island with all the glee of a rapacious hedge fund manager who has just realised how much money he can make if he says bollocks to the rules, but Ralph. Ralph the leader, whose nervousness and indecision are borne from the knowledge that no one else is going to come along and make things better. Our current Prime Minister is not a leader: she behaves like a civil servant who has been given a brief and has the job of delivering it no matter how ill-conceived the original idea; a leader would question the specification but she is too timorous to be honest with the British people. The Leader of the Opposition, still wedded to the fantasy that he could negotiate a better deal at the last minute, is being equally dishonest. And when you look around, there are absolutely no politicians that could salvage this situation as they are all too busy with their pettifogging party squabbles - "What's grown-ups going to say?"

It's Never Too Late (or Write What You Know) - Having spent a lifetime writing, I finally finished and published a novel this year. Freed from the shackles of full-time teaching, I was able to sit, hunched over a laptop in my kitchen corner, for long stretches while the kids were at school; but that was not the only reason I was able to make the sort of progress that had eluded me before: the difference, this time, was that I was enjoying what I was writing. If I am being honest, I only really have three strong ideas for novels; the one I had been working on for the last few years - an imagined tale involving the Modernist writer Malcolm Lowry and the tattooed curiosity, Horace Ridler - necessitated detailed research. This, coupled with the dense, literary prose style I had chosen to write in, made the whole process slow and, frankly, unenjoyable. One day, I decided to start writing my second idea, for which I had long ago produced a reasonably detailed plan. Set in 1977, with David Bowie, punk, the Jubilee and the Lewisham riot as context, the story charted the coming of age of a fifteen-year-old boy - all stuff I know about. Between October 2017 and April 2018 I wrote two drafts and then a final one and in September this year, two months after my fifty-sixth birthday, When Two Sevens Clash was published.

You Have To Tell Them - I have had cause for regret this year: I never told someone I was very close to that they were my best friend and I dearly wish I had. I think they knew but they have gone now - in tragic circumstances - and I have missed my chance. I am not sure that me telling them would have made a difference but it might have done. My New Year's resolution is to let those close to me know how important they are and how much they would be missed; I respectfully suggest you do the same.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Brilliant and Bizarre



The genius and eccentricity of Lee 'Scratch' Perry go before him in equal measure. One the one hand there is the prolific output of his band, The Upsetters, his production work with Bob Marley and a string of reggae luminaries and his invention of dub in the 1970s. On the other hand, there is his burning down of his own Black Ark studio, a fondness for cosmic pronouncements and an increasingly individual style of dress.

Incredibly, at the age of 82 he has just released a new album and seems to be permanently on tour in Europe and the States. When he took the stage at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill last Friday, what sprang to mind was Dr Johnson's surprise not at seeing something done well but seeing it done at all. And for the first part of the set, I was not sure it was being done well: despite there being much love for him from the audience, the songs were unrecognisable, Perry's talk between numbers was rambling and I had a feeling that he was making the lyrics up as he went along.

It was only when he played Max Romeo's Chase the Devil ("I'm gonna put on a iron shirt, and chase Satan out of earth"), a song that Perry co-wrote and produced in 1976, that things began to hit their stride. Followed up with another of his famous collaborations, The Congos' Fisherman, and a brilliant version of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Crazy Baldhead, there was suddenly a sense of Perry's deserved place as roots reggae's crowned head. And he was wearing a crown of sorts: a baseball cap bedecked with mirrors, badges and feathers topped off a shell suit that looked as though it had been rescued from an explosion in a paint factory. Oh, and his trainers and beard were matching crimson.

Perry also displayed some surprisingly sprightly moves for an octogenarian, although the high stepping and leg kicks might be attributable to the vitamin tablets he took from the suitcase parked in front of the drum riser and necked halfway through the set. Mind you, if I was doing what he does in my eighties I might need more than a few ginseng pills. Bizarrely, he also showed us that he was wearing another pair of trousers under his trousers; what the benefit of this was remained unclear.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry has a history of working with British artists - The Clash, Adrian Sherwood, Mad Professor - and this year's The Black Album - what might be his 65th studio album as an artist - has been made with Norfolk-based producer, Daniel Boyle. Never one to shirk giving spiritual advice, Perry finished with arguably the standout track from the album, Your Shadow Is Black, exhorting us to "love yourselves and yourself", a sentiment we were happy to reciprocate.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Geography



Without any deliberation behind it, I have been listening to a lot of Australian music this year: excellent albums from The Stroppies, Courtney Barnett, The Goon Sax and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have all been on heavy rotation round our house. However, I only made the geographical connection between them when I was limbering up this week to go and see the latter band play live in Brighton. If we still had a proper music press I would have already realised as a handy label would have been applied (New South Wave, Ozchester, other suggestions on a postcard, please) and the bands would have been lumped into a high-profile movement.

That said, there is a refreshing rediscovery of a naïve and positive guitar sound that links all of them together and seeing Rolling Blackouts at Concorde 2, with their four guitarists and three vocalists, made me realise that I have not seen a band as energetic this year: hardworking and superbly-named drummer, Marcel Tussie, and bassist, Joe Russo, drive the rhythm along relentlessly, the duelling guitars of Russo's brother Tom, Fran Keaney and Joe White chime above and, with all three taking vocal turns, the pace is relentless.

This year's debut album, Hope Downs, has been very well received in this country and it made up the bulk of the set with Talking Straight, Exclusive Grave and Mainland being the picks. But it was two songs from 2016's seven-track Talk Tight EP that were the standouts for me. The infectiousness of Wither With You disguises a lyric of despair - "Trying to make our dreams come true/And I wonder what's the use/When you're pointing at that noose" - but was still an early highlight and the evening closed with Wide Eyes, my favourite for its reverb and treated vocal that put me in mind of The Jesus and Mary Chain. However, it was another band from the 80s that I was reminded of most - albeit a faster version - Brisbane's The Go-Betweens. Maybe there is something in geography after all.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Wistful Joy



Of all the current music I subject my kids to in the car, the group that the three of them are most enthusiastic about is Teleman. When I asked them why, they struggled to articulate their appeal at first; but then my daughter said it was the lead singer's voice and my oldest said he found their songs uplifting. The middle one grunted something unintelligible from behind a curtain of hair and we moved on.

It was an unfair question because it was one I had no concrete answer to myself; since I had first seen Teleman at the Green Man festival a few years ago, I had played their music a lot but, because some friends expressed ambivalence, I sometimes asked myself what it was I liked about them without ever coming to a conclusion. However, seeing them live again in Brighton this week provided me with some answers: the simplicity of the music - Pete Cattermoul and Hiro Amamiya's bouncing rhythms, Jonny Sanders' vintage synths, his brother's selective guitar - combined with clear but obscure lyrics delivered with Tom Sanders' yearning vocal, creates a naïve sound somewhere between the Velvet Underground's more playful moments and Kraftwerk's poppiest songs.

Perhaps it is this naivety that explains the youthful appeal. I took my eldest with me to Concorde 2 for his first proper indoor gig and when we bumped into a friend he commented that the venue seemed to be half-full of youngsters with a parent. He was exaggerating but, when I looked around, I realised he had a point. Teleman have got that teenagers-not-too-embarrassed-to-go-to-a-gig-with-their-parents market sown up.

With their third album - Family of Aliens - just released, the pick of the new songs were showcased. Cactus, Twisted Heart and Song For a Seagull, the latter obviously going down well in Brighton, all seemed immediately familiar but there was also room for favourites from the previous album, Brilliant Sanity. Tangerine and Fall In Time featured early on in the set and it was closed with the much called-for, Dusseldorf - "Düsseldorf looms in the cold grey light/I love everyone that I meet tonight."

The two encore tracks were both from the debut album, Breakfast. The delightful Christina ("Christina so good/She makes me go across town") perfectly demonstrated Teleman's gift for wistful joy and Not In Control, a hidden track on the album, shows off their ability to move effortlessly into the territory of motorik.

So I left the gig having realised that there is a lot more to Teleman than a sense of innocence and whimsy. Their songs make me think of the city: they are artful - the covers of all three albums are beautiful examples of geometric graphic design - and European and metropolitan and, to the ears of someone whose escape to the country has been soured by the Great British Brexit, that is balm to salve a wound right now. My son had a good time, too.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Where There's Life



The last post on this blog ended with a short discourse on Bill Ryder-Jones' song, Satellites, followed by the high-handed declaration, "I do not think I have encountered any problem that could not be made even a little bit better by listening to the songs that saved your life". Well, that was nine months ago and in that time I have found out that music cannot make everything better and songs don't save lives; but that's another story and this is not the place to write it.

What is fitting, though, is that, after a self-imposed hiatus, Sussex Sedition resumes with Bill Ryder-Jones. Last week, he was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London's brutalist South Bank Centre, a gig I approached with much anticipation, not just because he has a new album, Yawn, out in November but because he was being supported by Our Girl, the young Brighton three-piece whose recent debut album Ryder-Jones played on and produced.

I had been listening to Stranger Today for the previous few weeks: it is a noisy album that deserves a Ziggy Stardust-style imperative TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME and, even without their honorary member appearing with them live, they still make a hell of a racket. This is mainly due to the ferocity of the rhythm created by Lauren Wilson's thunderous drumming and Josh Tyler's low frequency rumbling bass; overlaying this, Soph Nathan's scuzzy guitar work and dreamy vocals see the band's sound drifting from the territory of slacker shoegaze to psychedelia, particularly on the Stone Roses-esque, In My Head. But it is not all a heavy workout: the melodies of I Really Like It and Level show the more tender side of Our Girl.

When Bill Ryder-Jones takes the stage he is alone - apart from the people who arrive late in their seats right at the front, causing a delay - and begins the set with only his guitar for accompaniment. Needless to say, he plays some of his most delicate songs; the first two, Seabirds and Put It Down Before You Break It, are from 2015's West Kirby County Primary, and the third is By Morning I, from its sometimes overlooked predecessor, A Bad Wind Blows in my Heart.

When he is joined on stage by his touring band, Liam Power's By The Sea, Ryder-Jones announces a sequence of songs from the new album and wryly assures us they will be followed by "all the hits". Of the new tracks, the superbly titled, Mither, a word my northerner mum used to use, and And Then There's You stand out, perhaps because they have been available to listen to online. The latter, with its memorable couplet, "Tell me again what I'm worth/When everything hurts", indicates that we will be on familiar emotional ground on the new album and the song builds to an affecting close with the plaintive refrain of "My mistress, my mistress/Take me home again".

As promised, more familiar material makes up the remainder of the set: favourites Two To Birkenhead, Daniel, Wild Swans, Catharine and Huskisson and Wild Roses precede the final song of the night. Closing the performance with the crescendo of Satellites and its observation that "You saved me with the thought/That something somewhere must be happening" was particularly poignant for me: where there's life, there's hope.